Peer Tutoring in Reading

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will look at peer tutoring in reading, including some of the benefits and some basic strategies for implementing a peer tutoring program in a reading class.

What Is Peer Tutoring?

Peer tutoring is a way for students to collaborate with each other to reinforce classroom learning and provide opportunities to practice. In a reading classroom, peer tutoring is especially effective because students can read to each other and benefit from the camaraderie of enjoying a good story together.

Benefits of Peer Tutoring

Research indicates that peer tutoring can be especially effective when group rewards are used to increase motivation and engagement. Peer tutoring is effective for both the tutor and the tutee and shows greater gains in emerging readers in 1st-3rd grades. Students in urban areas, those with a low socioeconomic status, diverse schools and classrooms with minority students also show greater benefits from peer tutoring.

The evidence also indicates that peer tutoring is most effective when implemented as part of a school-wide literacy effort and when students are largely in control of the sessions. Peer tutoring is especially effective instruction on reading fluency and for reinforcing concepts learned in the classroom, while providing opportunities for social interaction.

Tutoring is most effective when it is planned and executed carefully with training and other protocols for implementation. Let's take a look at some of the evidence-driven strategies and guidelines for implementing a peer tutoring program in a reading class.

Elements of Effective Peer Tutoring

Students who provide tutoring are not teachers and should not be expected to take on that role. Effective peer tutoring should supplement skills taught in class, rather than introduce new skills. Using peer tutors to reinforce classroom learning will provide extra practice for lessons taught by an instructor. Because students are not trained instructors, they can be thought of as reading helpers, there to provide guidance and corrective feedback but not replace regular classroom instruction.

The primary role of peer tutoring in a reading class is to provide opportunities for reading aloud in a small group or a pair, rather than in front of the entire class. Oral reading in a peer tutoring setting provides students with a safe, supportive environment where they can practice reading fluency without the pressure of reading aloud to a large group. This can reduce anxiety in struggling readers who may not be comfortable being put on the spot with an audience. For this reason, it is an effective strategy to limit peer tutors to groups of 2-4 participants.

A peer tutoring program should provide training to participating students. Some of this training might include the behavioral skills needed to be polite and respectful with each other. Using praise effectively is another element of peer tutor training that students may need to learn. Training should also include some academic intervention strategies for making gracious corrections to their tutees' mistakes and showing how to improve fluency.

For example, student tutors may already have a conversational reading flow, but teaching other students to improve their read aloud fluency may require a different skill set. Of course students should also be trained in the importance of treating other students with kindness and courtesy. This training should not be a one-and-done effort, but rather will need to be maintained and refreshed over time.

When recruiting students as peer tutors, consider those students who have mastered the reading skills they are expected to use as well as the training on how to be a tutor. Not all students recruited as tutors may be able to demonstrate mastery of tutoring skills needed to be a peer tutor. In other words, just because a student is a good reader does not necessarily mean they will be a good tutor.

To demonstrate these essential tutoring skills, trainers can use some creative strategies like role-playing, cooperative learning activities, and pairing together student tutor trainees to invite students to show what they know about how to be a good tutor. Tutor trainees can take turns reading to each other, listening, and providing corrective feedback. Because these students are more advanced readers, they may have to pretend to make mistakes to practice making corrections.

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